Association of autoantibodies against the M2-muscarinic receptor with perinatal outcomes

Li et al. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:285
http://www.translational-medicine.com/content/11/1/285
RESEARCH
Open Access
Association of autoantibodies against the
M2-muscarinic receptor with perinatal outcomes
in women with severe preeclampsia
Yanfang Li1†, Guiling Ma2†, Zhiyong Zhang2, Yin Yue2, Yuting Yuan2, Yidan Wang2, Guobin Miao2* and Lin Zhang2*
Abstract
Background: The goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that autoantibodies against M2-muscarinic
acetylcholine receptor (M2-AAB) are associated with severe preeclampsia and increased risk of adverse perinatal
outcomes.
Methods: We conducted a case–control study comparing 60 women with severe preeclampsia to 60 women with
normal pregnancy and 60 non-pregnant controls. A peptide, corresponding to amino acid sequences of the second
extracellular loops of the M2 receptor, was synthesized as antigen to test for the presence of autoantibodies, using
an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The frequency and titer of M2-AAB were compared in the 3 groups. The
risk of adverse perinatal outcomes among women with severe preeclampsia in the presence of M2-AAB was estimated.
Results: M2-AAB were positive in 31.7% (19/60) of patients with severe preeclampsia, in 10.0% (6/60) (p = 0.006)
of normal pregnant women and in 8.3% (5/60) (p = 0.002) of non-pregnant controls. The presence of M2-AAB was
associated with increased risk of adverse pregnancy complications (OR, 3.6; 95%CI, 1.0-12.6; p = 0.048), fetal growth
restriction (OR, 6.8; 95% CI, 2.0-23.0; p = 0.002), fetal distress (OR, 6.7; 95% CI, 1.7-26.6; p = 0.007), low Apgar score
(OR, 5.3; 95% CI, 1.4-20.7; p = 0.017), and perinatal death (OR, 4.3; 95% CI, 1.0-17.6; p = 0.044) among women with
severe preeclampsia.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates, for the first time, an increase in M2-AAB in patients with severe preeclampsia.
Women with severe preeclampsia who are M2-AAB positive are at increased risk for neonatal mortality and morbidity.
We posit that M2-AAB may be involved in the pathogenesis of severe preeclampsia.
Keywords: Pregnancy, Hypertension, Antibodies
Background
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-specific syndrome characterized
by hypertension and proteinuria. It occurs in 3-5%
pregnancies and leads to high maternal and fetal morbidity
and mortality [1]. Research has shown that preeclampsia is a
multi-systemic syndrome with complex pathophysiological
changes, such as endothelial dysfunction, inflammatory
response, activation of the coagulation system and metabolic
changes [2]. In serious cases, termination of pregnancy is
the only available option to prevent further deterioration
* Correspondence: [email protected]; [email protected]
†
Equal contributors
2
Heart Failure Center, Department of Cardiology, Capital Medical University,
Beijing Chao-Yang Hospital, 8# Gong-Ti South Road, 100020, Beijing, China
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
of the fetus and mother [3]. To date, the underlying mechanisms responsible for the pathogenesis of preeclampsia
remain unknown.
In recent years, evidence has accumulated suggesting
that autoimmunity plays a role in the pathogenesis of
preeclampsia. Numerous studies have shown that
women with preeclampsia possess autoantibodies against
angiotensin II type 1 receptors (AT1-AAB), which bind to
and activate the AT1 receptor, thus provoking biological
responses relevant to the pathogenesis of preeclampsia
[4-8]. Recently, we found an obvious increase in the
frequency of autoantibodies against adrenergic receptors,
such as β1, β2, and α1, in patients with severe preeclampsia
[9]. Previous studies have described the role of autoantibodies against M2-muscarinic receptors (M2-AAB) in
© 2013 Li et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Li et al. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:285
http://www.translational-medicine.com/content/11/1/285
several kinds of cardiovascular disease, such as Chagas
disease, hypertensive heart disease, idiopathic dilated
cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation [10-16].
Therefore, the aim of this study was to test the hypothesis
M2-AAB are associated with severe preeclampsia and
increased risk of adverse perinatal outcomes. A synthetic
peptide, corresponding to the amino acid sequence of the
second extracellular loop of the human M2 receptor, was
used to test sera from patients with severe preeclampsia,
normal pregnant women, and non-pregnant controls. We
compared the frequency of M2-AAB among the three
groups. The relationship between M2-AAB and perinatal
mortality and morbidity, was also investigated.
Methods
Study subjects
This was a case–control study. Patients that were admitted
to Beijing Chao-Yang Hospital were managed by the
obstetrics faculty of Capital Medical University. A total of
60 consecutive women diagnosed with severe preeclampsia
based on the criteria set by the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists were recruited [17]. The
criteria include increased blood pressure (≥ 160 mmHg
systolic or ≥ 110 mmHg diastolic on two occasions
taken at least 6 hours apart after 20 weeks of gestation) in
women with previously normal blood pressure or
proteinuria of ≥ 5 g over 24 h. We then randomly selected
60 age-matched, pregnant women and 60 age-matched
non-pregnant women who were apparently healthy and
had no hypertension or proteinuria. None of the control
subjects had suffered preeclampsia previously. Exclusion
criteria for all three groups included diabetes mellitus,
vasculitis, renal disease and autoimmune disease. Blood
samples were collected from the antecubital vein, upon
recruitment into the study, using tubes containing EDTA.
Samples were centrifuged at 2000 × g for 10 minutes, at 4°C,
within 2 h of collection. Serum samples were stored
at −80°C until analyzed. We were able to collect blood samples from ten of the sixty patients with severe preeclampsia
at the end of puerperium, without a scheduled follow-up.
Placenta was collected from study subjects and weighed.
Clinical data from mothers and infants/neonates was also
collected. The research protocol was conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the World Medical Association’s
Declaration of Helsinki and was performed following
approval from the Medical Ethics Committee of Capital
Medical University, Beijing Chao-Yang Hospital. All women
that were included in the study were in the prepartum or
early intrapartum period of pregnancy and all provided
written informed consent before inclusion in the study.
In this study, low birth weight was defined as birth weight
less than 2500 g. A gestational age of less than 37 weeks
was considered to be preterm. Fetal growth restriction was
operationally defined as sonographic estimated fetal weight
Page 2 of 7
below the 10th percentile for the gestational age. Evidence
of fetal distress was considered to be a fetal heart rate of
more than 160 bpm or less than 110 bpm, evaluated
by electronic fetal monitoring, or the third degree of
meconium-stained amniotic fluid.
Materials
Peptide corresponding to the amino acid sequence of
the second extracellular loop of the human M2 receptor
(residues 168 to 193, V-R-T-V-E-D-G-E-C-Y-I-Q-F-F-SN-A-A-V-T-F-G-T-A-I-A) was synthesized by Genomed
(Genomed Synthesis, Inc., San Francisco, CA, U.S.) [18-20].
The purity of the peptide, as determined by HPLC using a
Vydac C-18 column, was 95.6%. The molecular weight of
the peptide was analyzed by mass spectrometry. A Nunc
microtiter plate was purchased from Maxisorb, Kastrup,
Denmark. Tween-20, thimerosal, and ABTS were obtained
from Sigma, St. Louis, MO, USA. Fetal bovine serum,
biotinylated goat anti-human IgG (H + L), and horseradish peroxidase-streptavidin were purchased from
Zhongshan Golden Bridge Biotech, Beijing, China. The
microplate reader was purchased from Molecular Devices
Corp, Menlo Park, CA.
ELISA protocol
Samples were classified as positive or negative based on
the presence or absence of M2-AAB. An ELISA protocol,
previously described by Fu et al. [20], was used for screening. Briefly, a microtiter plate was coated with 50 μL of
peptide (5 mg/L) in 100 mmol Na2CO3 solution (pH = 11)
and stored overnight at 4°C. The wells were saturated with
PMT (1 × PBS, 1 mL/L Tween-20, and 0.1 g/L thimerosal
(PBS-T) supplemented with 100 mL/L fetal bovine serum)
and incubated for 1 hour at 37°C. Then 50 μL of serum
was diluted from 1:20 to 1:160, positive and negative
controls were added and the wells were again incubated
for 1 hour at 37 °C. After washing three times with PBS-T,
affinity-purified biotinylated goat anti-human IgG (H + L)
(1:500 dilution in PMT) was added and the wells were
incubated for 1 hour at 37°C. After another round of
washing, the bound biotinylated antibody was detected by
incubating the microtiter plate for 1 hour at 37°C with horseradish peroxidase-streptavidin (1:500 dilution in PMT).
After washing an additional three times with PBS,
2.5 mmol/L H2O2 was added followed by 2 mmol/L
ABTS in citrate buffer solution. After 20 minutes, absorbance (A) was measured at 405 nm in a microplate reader.
The sensitivity and specificity of the ELISA assay, for
sample sera and positive and negative serum, were measured by the corresponding curves. Several recently detected
samples were combined for the positive and negative sera.
All samples were tested twice to verify the reliability
of the result. The intra-assay and inter-assay coefficient
of variation was less than 5 %. The detection range of
Li et al. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:285
http://www.translational-medicine.com/content/11/1/285
absorbance was up to 2.5. Further dilution was done
when the absorbance was over the upper limit.
Page 3 of 7
retinopathy (8/60), was significantly higher among those
in the severe preeclampsia group than in the normal
pregnant group (36/60 versus 0/60, p < 0.001).
Data analysis
Quantitative data are expressed as the mean ± SD. Positivity
was defined as a ratio of (sample A - blank A)/(negative
control A - blank A) ≥ 2.1. Antibody titer was reported as
geometric mean. Continuous variables that were not
normally distributed were log-transformed to obtain
normality for testing, and geometric means were presented.
One-way ANOVA test was used to determine significant
differences between groups. The association between the
presence of M2-AAB and categorical outcomes among
women with severe preeclampsia was estimated by
calculating unadjusted odds ratios. Adjusted analysis was
not performed due to the small sample size. Data were
analyzed using SPSS 16.0 (SPSS, Chicago, Illinois, USA).
P < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.
Results
A total of 180 women were included in the study. Of
these, 60 were in the severe preeclampsia group, 60
were in the normal pregnant group and 60 were in
the non-pregnant control group. Study subjects were
enrolled between May 2011 and November 2012.
Clinical characteristics of the women in the three
study groups are shown in Table 1.
Maternal clinical characteristics
Headache was the main complaint in the severe preeclampsia group. Blurred vision, epigastric pain, and
oliguria were also common complaints.
The maternal hospital stay was significantly longer for
women in the severe preeclampsia group compared with
those in the normal pregnant group (9.1 ± 5.4 days
versus 4.2 ± 2.3 days, p < 0.001). The frequency of
pregnancy complications, including oligohydramnios
(6/60), placental abruption (5/60), placenta remnants
(7/60), postpartum hemorrhage (4/60), retinal edema
(2/60), preretinal hemorrhage (4/60) and hypertensive
Perinatal clinical characteristics
Fetal ultrasound examination showed significant elevations
in pulse index, resistance index and the S/D value of the
umbilical artery. S/D value refers to the ratio of the peak
systolic and diastolic velocity of the fetal umbilical artery
and is indicative of the placenta-fetal blood flow resistance.
A total of 41.7% (25/60) of fetuses in the severe preeclampsia group suffered from fetal growth restriction
and 20.0% (12/60) suffered from fetal distress; both of
which were significantly higher compared with fetuses in
the normal pregnant group (p < 0.001 for both). The
proportion of preterm births and low birth weight was
significantly higher in the severe preeclampsia group
compared with the normal pregnant group (76.7% versus
10.0% and 75.0% versus 6.7%, p < 0.001, respectively). The
proportion of perinatal deaths was also higher in the
severe preeclampsia group than in the normal pregnant
group (16.7% versus 0%, p < 0.001) (Table 2).
Birth weight in the severe preeclampsia group was
significantly lower than in the normal pregnant group
(2142.1 ± 786.8 g versus 3279.1 ± 359.4 g, p < 0.001).
Similarly, placental weight was also lower in the severe
preeclampsia group compared with the normal pregnant
group (517.9 ± 237.6 g versus 650.6 ± 120.6 g, p < 0.001).
Neonatal Apgar score (appearance of skin color, pulse,
grimace, activity, and respiration) was used to classify
newborn infants [21]. The Apgar scores were significantly
lower in infants from the severe preeclampsia group
compared with infants from the normal pregnant group
at one minute (7.1 ± 1.8 versus 9.5 ± 0.5, p < 0.001),
five minutes (8.0 ± 1.3 versus 9.8 ± 0.2, p < 0.001), and
ten minutes (8.3 ± 1.4 versus 10.0 ± 0, p < 0.001). Low
Apgar score was defined, according to the Apgar
score at one minute; severe was considered to be between
0 and 3 and mild was considered to be between 4 and 7.
The incidence of low Apgar score was significantly higher
Table 1 Clinical characteristics of women from three groups in the present study
Age (years)
Non-pregnant
Normal pregnant
Severe preeclampsia
(n = 60)
(n = 60)
(n = 60)
30.4 ± 3.9
29.0 ± 0.6
29.5 ± 4.7
Gestational age (weeks)
NA
38.6 ± 0.3
33.1 ± 4.6*
Systolic blood pressure (mmHg)
118.7 ± 6.8
115.5 ± 1.6
168.0 ± 15.7*
Diastolic blood pressure (mmHg)
74.7 ± 6.3
73.9 ± 1.4
109.6 ± 12.4*
Urinary protein (mg/24 h)
Nd†
Nd†
6448.1 ± 2814.6
Data are mean ± SD. Student’s unpaired two-tailed t-test was used to compare the non-pregnant to the normal pregnant group and the normal pregnant group
to the severe preeclampsia group. Significant differences are indicated by * (p < 0.001).
Nd: not determined; NA: not applicable.
†: Urine protein of normal pregnant and non-pregnant women was within normal ranges and not routinely recorded.
Li et al. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:285
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Table 2 Perinatal complications
Complications
Severe preeclampsia n = 60 (%)
Normal pregnant n = 60 (%)
P value
Fetal growth restriction
25(41.7)
1(1.7)
<0.001†
Fetal distress
12(20.0)
2(3.3)
0.008*
Low birth weight
45(75.0)
4(6.7)
<0.001†
<1500 g
15(25.0)
0
<0.001†
<1000 g
5(8.3)
0
0.068
Preterm
46(76.7)
6(10.0)
<0.001†
Neonatal asphyxia
12(20.0)
0
<0.001†
Mild
8(13.3)
0
0.010*
Severe
4(6.7)
0
0.127
Perinatal death
10(16.7)
0
<0.001†
Intrauterine death
6(10.0)
0
0.036*
Neonatal death
4(6.7)
0
0.127
*P < 0.05; †p < 0.001.
in the severe preeclampsia group compared with the normal
pregnant group (20.0% versus 0%, respectively; p < 0.001).
Of the 60 neonates in the severe preeclampsia group,
16.7% (10/60) died, 21.7% (13/60) were transferred to the
BaYi Children’s Hospital, 41.7% (25/60) were transferred
to the pediatric department of our hospital, and 20.0%
(12/60) required no further treatment.
The sensitivity and specificity of the ELISA assay
Results of samples from most of the patients were stable
until the titer serum was diluted to 1:160. Although
the absorbance decreased when the sera were diluted,
there was a significant difference between the positive and
negative samples throughout. The sensitivity and specificity
of the assay to the M2-AAB are shown in Figure 1. The
curve for positive patient samples (3 randomly selected
samples) corresponded well with the curve for the positive
control sample. Results were similar for negative samples.
There was a large difference in response between samples
from patients that were positive for M2-AAB and those that
were negative for M2-AAB. Based on these curves, we
concluded that the ELISA had good sensitivity and
specificity.
ELISA result
A total of 31.7% (19/60) of the severe preeclampsia
group, 10.0% (6/60) (p = 0.006) of the normal pregnant
group, and 8.3% (5/60) (p = 0.002) of non-pregnant
controls were sera positive for M2-AAB. The geometric
mean titer of the M2-AAB was significantly higher in
the severe preeclampsia group (1:128) compared to the
normal pregnant group (1:44) and to the non-pregnant
controls (1:40) (p < 0.001 for both) (Figure 2).
The association of M2-AAB and clinical outcomes
Figure 1 The sensitivity and specificity of the ELISA assay. The
curve of positive patients (3 randomly selected samples) was in
good correspondence with the curve for the positive control blood
sample, and the similar result was found in negative samples. There
was a great difference in response between patients positive and
those negative to the M2-AAB.
Unadjusted odds ratios were used to estimate the association
of M2-AAB with pregnancy complications, fetal distress,
preterm birth, neonatal asphyxia, and perinatal death
among women with severe preeclampsia. Positivity for
M2-AAB was associated with pregnancy complications
(OR, 3.6; 95%CI, 1.0-12.6; p = 0.048), fetal growth restriction
(OR, 6.8; 95% CI, 2.0-23.0; p = 0.002), fetal distress (OR, 6.7;
95% CI, 1.7-26.6; p = 0.007), low Apgar score (OR, 5.3; 95%
CI, 1.4-20.7; p = 0.017), and perinatal death (OR, 4.3; 95%
CI, 1.0-17.6; p = 0.044).
Discussion
Main findings
In this study we demonstrated, for the first time, that
positivity for M2-AAB is closely associated with severe
Li et al. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:285
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Page 5 of 7
sperm from a particular male partner prior to pregnancy
promotes immune tolerance and reduces the risk of defective
trophoblast invasion [24]. Autoantibodies, such as anticardiolipin and anti-β2-glycoprotein-1 antibody, have been
detected in preeclampsia patients [25]. Since the first
report was published that described the presence of
AT1-AAB in preeclampsia patients [4], researchers
have gained a greater understanding of the pathogenic
mechanisms underlying preeclampsia, which implicate the
immune system. Recently we found an obvious increase
in the frequency of autoantibodies against adrenergic
receptors, such as β1, β2, and α1, in patients with severe
preeclampsia with obscure mechanisms [9].
Autoantibodies and preeclampsia
Figure 2 Frequencies and titers of autoantibodies among the
three groups. Panel A: Frequencies of M2-AAB was significantly
higher in women with severe preeclampsia than in the normal
pregnant women and non-pregnant controls. Panel B: Geometric
mean titers of M2-AAB was significantly higher in women with
severe preeclampsia than in the normal pregnant women and
non-pregnant controls. *p < 0.05: women with severe preeclampsia
compared to normal pregnant women and non-pregnant controls;
***p < 0.001: women with severe preeclampsia compared to normal
pregnant women and non-pregnant controls. M2-AAB: autoantibodies
against M2-muscarinic receptors; SPE: severe preeclampsia; NP: normal
pregnant; NC: non-pregnant control.
preeclampsia. The frequencies and titers of M2-AAB
were significantly higher in the severe preeclampsia group,
when compared to normal pregnant women and nonpregnant healthy controls. The presence of M2-AAB in
women with severe preeclampsia was associated with both
adverse maternal and perinatal clinical outcomes, including
pregnancy complications, fetal distress, fetal growth
restriction, low Apgar score and perinatal death.
Immune mechanisms in preeclampsia
The pathogenesis of preeclampsia remains obscure, but is
likely multifactorial and involves abnormal placentation,
reduced placental perfusion, endothelial cell dysfunction,
and systemic vasospasm [22]. An immune mechanism has
long been postulated as playing a role in the pathogenesis
of preeclampsia. Immune maladaptation may impair
invasion of spiral arteries by endovascular cytotrophoblast
cells [23]. Studies have suggested that repeated exposure to
While our results need to be confirmed by larger studies,
there are biologically plausible mechanisms by which
M2-AAB may lead to severe preeclampsia. The M2 receptor
is primarily expressed in the heart (in human and other
mammalian species), and its activation results in negative
chronotropic and inotropic effects by inhibiting adenylyl
cyclase, decreasing intracellular cAMP, and reducing L-type
Ca2+ currents. Previous studies from our group and others
have demonstrated that M2-AAB display “agonistic activity”
against their target receptors resulting in myocardial injury
and cardiac dysfunction.
Studies have shown that the risk of long-term sequelae,
such as chronic hypertension, ischemic heart disease, stroke,
and venous thromboembolism are significantly increased in
women with preeclampsia [26,27]. In this study, we were
able to collect blood samples from ten of the sixty patients
with severe preeclampsia at the end of puerperium, without
a scheduled follow-up. Three of the ten samples were
positive for M2-AAB at titers similar to the levels at
the time of recruitment. This is similar to what has
been observed for autoantibodies against adrenergic receptors [9]. We infer that the presence of autoantibodies might
be correlated to a high risk for cardiovascular sequelae,
however this hypothesis needs further exploration.
Frequencies and titers of M2-AAB were significantly
higher in the severe preeclampsia group than in the
normal pregnant women and non-pregnant control
groups. Therefore, we hypothesize that there may be a
relationship between the presence of M2-AAB and the
development of severe preeclampsia. Alternatively, it
is plausible that severe preeclampsia triggers the production
of M2-AAB. Further studies are needed to clarify the
association between M2-AAB and the development of
severe preeclampsia.
Limitations
There are limitations that should be considered when
interpreting our results. First, this case–control study, like
all case–control studies, there is always that possibility of
Li et al. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013, 11:285
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selection bias. We included two groups of controls who
were age-matched to the cases and were randomly
selected from the sample population. This would minimize
selection bias. Second, our analyses were unadjusted for
potential confounders. While this is unlikely, it is possible
that the associations observe could be the result of an
unknown confounder. Third, while the association between
M2-AAB and severe preeclampsia is biologically plausible,
we are careful to point out that association is not necessarily
causality. Further studies will be needed to elucidate a causal
role of M2-AAB in severe preeclampsia. However, the
association between M2-AAB and adverse perinatal
outcomes among women with severe preeclampsia is
suggestive of a causal role. Fourth, as we didn’t include a
group of mild preeclampsia patients, the relation between
severity of preeclampsia and the antibody titer was unknown.
Besides, maybe gestational age affects the antibody titer more
than maternal age does. We collect blood samples of patients
that were admitted to Beijing Chao-Yang Hospital during
prepartum period and the gestational age was significant
increased in the normal pregnant women. Finally, only
serum M2-AAB was detected. Further studies that examine
the biological activity of M2-AAB, as well as M2 receptors in
the placenta and umbilical vessels, are needed.
Conclusion
This study demonstrates the prevalence of M2-AAB in a
cohort of women with severe preeclampsia. Risks of both
maternal and perinatal complications are significantly
increased when M2-AAB is present. M2-AAB may
participate in the pathogenesis of severe preeclampsia
and have clinical value for predicting complications.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Authors’ contributions
YFL, GLM, ZYZ and YY carried out the case, blood sample and clinical data
collection. GLM and YDW carried out the immunoassay. GLM and GBM
performed the analysis and interpretation of data. GLM and YTY were
involved in drafting part of the manuscript. LZ contributed the whole study
and participated in the design and coordination of this project as well as
manuscript writing. All authors reviewed and approved the final manuscript.
Page 6 of 7
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Acknowledgments
This study was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China
(81250011) to LZ and Beijing Natural Science Foundation (7122073) to GBM.
Author details
1
Gynaecology and Obstetrics Department, Capital Medical University, Beijing
Chao-Yang Hospital, Beijing, China. 2Heart Failure Center, Department of
Cardiology, Capital Medical University, Beijing Chao-Yang Hospital, 8# Gong-Ti
South Road, 100020, Beijing, China.
Received: 4 August 2013 Accepted: 6 November 2013
Published: 11 November 2013
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Cite this article as: Li et al.: Association of autoantibodies against the
M2-muscarinic receptor with perinatal outcomes in women with severe
preeclampsia. Journal of Translational Medicine 2013 11:285.
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